The latest trailer for Justice League came out this weekend, giving us our first good look at the upcoming DC Comics team-up. And like the first trailer, it looks pretty fun! But, despite a great showing from Jason Momoa living his Aquaman-by-way-of-Khal-Drogo life and a quip about how rich Batman is, something is noticeably missing: Henry Cavill’s Superman.
This isn’t the first time Superman has been absent from a Justice League promotion. That first look footage from San Diego Comic-Con last year? Not even a hint of Kal-El. Teaser image from January? No Superman. New batch of posters that accompanied the new trailer? The Last Son of Krypton is nowhere to be found.
In fact, Henry Cavill’s chiseled mug has only been seen in exactly two pieces of promotional materials related to Justice League: a piece of concept art from a January 2016 preview of the film, and a single photo of the entire team together from Comic-Con last July.
Why? Because Superman is the film’s big twist. Yes, I think Superman will be a bad guy in Justice League. And I think I can prove it.
Spoilers for Man of Steel, Batman v Superman, and Suicide Squad follow:
First off, I would like to point out that not including Superman in the Justice League trailers is extremely weird. If we only saw Cyborg once or twice, or had only gotten a glimpse of Aquaman, that’d be strange, sure. But they’re not established characters in DC’s film universe in the same way Batman or Wonder Woman are. But this is Superman! He’s incredibly important to the entire Justice League conceit! Along with Batman and Wonder Woman, he is probably the most important member of the Justice League!
Now, there is an obvious explanation, which is that Zack Snyder killed off Superman in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, and Superman isn’t being shown off in the trailers because it would ruin the “surprise” of him not being dead in Justice League. I will counter that argument by saying that if Snyder was hoping to make this a surprise, he shouldn’t have:
- Announced that Henry Cavill will be starring as Superman in Justice League
- Ended Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice with this image of dirt rising off Superman’s coffin to immediately indicate to anyone watching that Superman isn’t really dead
- Released a picture showing Superman front and center as a member of the League
Therefore, Superman’s death and complete absence from anything we’ve seen in Justice League have to be taken as specific, intentional choices by Snyder to serve some narrative purpose. That leaves me with the conclusion that we haven’t seen Superman yet because he’s a villain. Shocker!
This isn’t anything new, of course. The DC Extended Universe movies have been telling us that Superman is destined for a heel turn for basically the entirety of their existence. Man of Steel posits that Superman is capable of visiting untold destruction upon humanity. Batman v Superman’s central conflict is about whether or not that’s true, and what should be done about it. A Justice League where Superman finally does go bad would serve as a fitting cap to that arc. And it’d be downright poetic for Batman, who, after having spent an entire movie trying to murder Superman before he goes rogue, would now be forced to save him from being the very thing he always feared.
It’s a thread that follows through in the larger DCEU, as well. The Suicide Squad’s entire raison d’être is as an answer to the question “What if Superman went bad?” and that film ends with Bruce Wayne promising Amanda Waller that next time, he and his friends (i.e., the Justice League) will handle it instead.
But if these “subtle” hints aren’t quite enough, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice also has already shown us an evil Superman who rules over a parademon-infested Earth, just to hammer the point home.
And then there’s the costume. Cavill released a teaser picture on his Instagram showing off a close-up of his costume from Justice League last August. The image shows what may be a black version of his iconic suit, although it’s equally possible that the photo might just be a stylistic filter.
If the black suit is real, it could very well be Superman’s post-resurrection “solar suit” from the comics. Then again, it’s another point in favor of the theory that “dark version of supersuits” = “evil.”
Assuming Superman is going to be evil in Justice League, a question remains: why?
One can take the simple answer that Justice League is a big superhero team-up film, and if The Avengers, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, and Captain America: Civil War have taught us anything, it’s that we as audiences love to see our favorite characters fight. Heck, both Avengers movies feature “mind-controlled super-powerful hero is forced to fight the rest of the team as a means to come together” as their major second act conflict. At this point, it would almost be weird not to have the various members of the Justice League duke it out before uniting to face off against a mindless horde of enemies and a sky-beam. Plus, “Evil Superman” is already having a bit of a cultural moment thanks to the Injustice series and the upcoming Injustice 2 video game (set to release just months before Justice League) featuring a universe where Superman has taken over the Earth.
Alternately, having watched Man of Steel’s character assassination on Superman, along with Batman v Superman’s literal assassination of him, it’s possible that Zack Snyder just doesn’t like Superman. (Remember how he had Superman’s pal Jimmy Olsen killed off in the extended edition of BvS in the name of “hav[ing] fun with him?”) Having Superman serve as a major villain to the Justice League — a group he’s a critical founding member of — would be like if Marvel ended Captain America: The First Avenger by revealing Steve Rodgers to secretly be a Nazi the Avengers would have to fight. It makes sense if you buy into Snyder not loving Superman’s boy scout image. But that’s just a bit of mostly baseless personal speculation.
In short, Justice League will feature Superman as a bad guy, at least until the Justice League beats the stuffing out of him and turns him good again. (I, for one, am looking forward to seeing the delighted grin on Jason Momoa’s face when this happens, because if the trailer is anything to go by, I think he might be the only one having any fun here.)
I look forward to being proved right about this when Justice League is released later this year on November 17th.